Best known for her roles as Beth Kittridge in TekWar and Dr. Elizabeth Weir in Stargate: Atlantis, Torri Higginson has been a prolific guest star on several TV shows and is currently helping on a film script about themes of obsession and inspiration. She took a few minutes after signing in the Walk of Fame to speak with the Daily Dragon.
Daily Dragon (DD): Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager was one of the first times we saw a woman in charge of a spaceship, in charge of anything, on a science fiction show. Do you think that without someone like Captain Janeway there would have ever been someone like Dr. Weir, head of a scientific expedition to Atlantis?
Torri Higginson (TH): Yeah, I think without a doubt. She was the first character that did that for us, but I think that’s the beauty of science fiction. Sci-fi has always been doing it before it happens in real life. I have faith in the human evolution, and I believe that eventually we’ll have a female president. These won’t be questions anymore, eventually. They’re still questions right now. So, I think it would have happened eventually, but I think it’s wonderful that she did it in such a strong way. And what she created for a stepping stone was huge.
DD: Have you had any fans, male or female, who have come up to you to say that you inspired them to go into the sciences, and if so, what was that like for you?
TH: I used to laugh with Rachel [Luttrell] that she would get all the fan mail from the fanboys and I would get all the fan mail from the fangirls. And I was like, hey, I want a sexy fan letter or whatever. But then I realized, no, I love my fan letters. They were 90% from young women who were inspired and talked about their need for a strong female role-model, and they didn’t feel that they had them. And I was surprised by that because I grew up in the ‘70s, ‘80s. On television we had Rhoda and Mary Tyler Moore. We had That Girl. They seem terribly dated now, but they were very strong female characters. It wasn’t until I was doing the show and I read these letters that I realized right now the strongest person is really Lisa Simpson, a cartoon character. Outside of sci-fi, we didn’t really have strong women. We had all these women that were dressing up and it was all about high heels and sex, which is empowering as well. But yes, I was very moved. I wasn’t even aware of what a dearth there was. I’m very honored to get to play a character that seemed to fill that a bit.
DD: In general, what is the experience of guest-starring on a set like versus being a series regular? And specifically, what was the set of NCIS like?
TH: Oh, it was a dream working on NCIS. They were a wonderful group of people, so warm and professional and funny and fun. You really felt that everybody showed up, did their job right, and yet they’re aware that they’re not saving babies’ lives. They’re there to a do a good job but not take themselves too seriously. It was a beautiful, beautiful balance. It’s strange. You get spoiled being a regular on a series because it becomes your family. You’re working such crazy hours that it really does become your family. They’re the people you’re spending the most time with, and so there’s a warmth and ease. You walk on set and you feel as comfortable as you do walking into your own home. When you’re a guest star, you’re walking into somebody else’s home that you don’t know that well. So you’re sort of worried you’re going to pick up the wrong fork or use the wrong knife. How do they do things here? So there’s that nervousness, which is sometimes inspiring, but it’s much more fun to be a regular.
DD: How did being on Stargate: Atlantis impact you personally? Were you being recognized on the street or anything? And are you surprised at all by how enthusiastic fans still are?
TH: Yeah, I’m amazed. I’m always sort of embarrassed when I get invited to these because I go, “Oh, who’s going to come say hello because the show’s been off the air?” For me, it feels like the show’s been off for five-six years. You forget that it’s being repeated and that new people are picking it up. Also, I’m amazed and humbled by the loyalty of the sci-fi/Stargate fans. It’s amazing. I’m a little bit uncomfortable with celebrity in general. I find it a strange thing.
I remember when I first got into this world I thought this was best of all worlds because as a sci-fi actor, on the whole, you can walk down the street and you might have the odd person come up. I used to laugh that in LA, which is such a business town, I’d have people come up in bars and whisper, “I want to buy you a drink, but my friends don’t know that I watch sci-fi.” Then you come to these conventions and you’re treated like a rock star. So you go, “Cool, I get a little slice of this but I can still have my own life.” I don’t have to worry about somebody trying to take a picture of me peeing or anything gross like that. In a way, I think this is one of the healthiest, luckiest exposures to celebrity one can have.
DD: That dovetails perfectly into my last question. What is your favorite part of doing conventions?
TH: Meeting the fans. One of the projects that I’m working on right now that I’m writing is about the fine line between obsession and inspiration. And I think what these people do with their obsession of this show is that they inspire each other. They inspire themselves to do creative stuff. The amount of art that’s created, be it fan fiction or graphic art, is amazing. The friendships that are forged are so beautiful. There’ve been a number of people that I’ve met today that are couples, but one is from England and the other is from America, and they met over a sci-fi forum. That stuff is just beautiful. Also, because I come from theater, I’m used to knowing my audience, and I miss that in television. So this is a way to get to know the audience. It’s pretty great.